Yesterday we exchanged lots of impressions and thoughts about how the struggles of supervising a large number of students could be addressed. Sometimes faculty members are forced to supervise a large number of students, which can pose serious challenges in performing accurate and quality supervision or, in exchange, put too much pressure on that staff that will consequently have lesser time for other academic activities (e.g. research).
Besides the obvious but not easy and quick solution of increasing the number of accredited supervisors, we brainstormed about other possible solutions. In the age of digital communications, the possibility to carry on something in the line of e-supervision came to our minds quite quickly.
There are at least four ways that online-based or -enhanced supervision can come handy.
- Setting up a virtual campus with a virtual secretary‘s office can shift some workload from the supervisor to the administrative staff or, even better, to the 24×7 service that all the information published on the secretary’s office can provide.
- The virtual campus can actually also feature a virtual classroom. While it is true that most thesis supervision tasks are very personal and refer to a particular thesis, it is also true that many explanations, indications, suggestions, etc. about the making of the thesis (choosing a methodology, writing the hypotheses and research questions, citing properly, etc.) are common to almost any thesis. Group supervision based on a virtual classroom can for sure avoid repetitions and even promote some proactiveness from the students.
- If meeting in the same time and space is no more an obligation – because the Internet has no boundaries of time or space – complementary online mentoring or co-supervision can be enabled so that more people can help in the supervision. The online mentor, for instance, needs not be a doctor and they may carry out some administrative or accompanying tasks that are not related to the core of the research activity.
- Last, and surely more daring, there’s P2P supervision. How many problems are shared between a cohort of students? How many core literature do they share? How many similar methodological approaches do they have in common? The idea of P2P supervision is to do one’s research openly, making it public on a personal learning environment or a personal research portal, so that other colleagues can have a look at it, comment it, provide advice, suggest readings and methodologies, etc.
Of course there are many odds and ends that need being addressed in online mentoring. But the tools and, more important, the paradigm, are there to be explored for their usefulness.